The Ministry of Justice is offering 2,000 divorcing couples the opportunity to apply for a £500 voucher towards the cost of family mediation. The incentive is an attempt to keep families out of court. Family mediation is usually charged for, unless one party has access to Legal Aid.
To qualify for a voucher, divorcing couples will be required to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting. A trained mediator will assess whether a couple’s case is suitable for mediation and meets the qualifying criteria. If the case is deemed eligible, the mediator can apply for a voucher, which is paid directly once mediation sessions are completed.
Vouchers and Legal Aid
Those who qualify for Legal Aid could still be eligible for a voucher, according to a Law Gazette article. It’s possible for one party to obtain a voucher if the other is entitled to Legal Aid.
The Ministry of Justice has said that voucher availability is limited and will be offered to eligible parties until they run out.
The scheme will be administered by the Family Mediation Council. Family mediation was the government’s flagship solution following the removal of Legal Aid for most private family law matters in 2013. However, family mediation referrals have nosedived.
Family mediation a quicker solution for divorcing couples
Lord Wolfson QC, the minister for courts, said: “Family mediation is often a quicker, cheaper and less stressful way of resolving disputes. It helps divorcing couples to reach amicable agreements without an unnecessary and often acrimonious court process.”
“Our new scheme will open up the benefits of these services to even more families – sparing them the stress of long legal battles, while also helping to lessen the pressure on our family courts as we recover from the pandemic,” Wolfson said.
The scheme is expected to cost the government £1 million, but officials have said it’s worth the investment given that research shows that 70% of separating couples using mediation services manage to resolve their issues outside of the courtroom.
Scheme for divorcing couples welcomed
Chair of the Family Mediation Council, John Taylor, said: “This government investment in mediation is much welcomed by the Family Mediation Council. It will help separated families agree solutions that are best for their children, taking into account what is going to be important for them as they grow up.”
“Family mediation is a proven cost-effective way to resolve differences following separation. This voucher scheme will make it even more accessible, and will help families resolve issues for themselves, without having to go to court,” Mr Taylor added.
Family courts under pressure
The scheme has been launched to help ease the pressure on the family courts, which is facing huge backlogs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Cases that are better suited to mediation will be diverted to help cut waiting times and to prevent further delays to cases that require their time in court.
News of the scheme comes after an overhaul of the family court system was announced last year to better protect victims of domestic abuse, including an automatic entitlement for special measures in courtrooms and stronger powers for judges to stop abusers repeatedly dragging their victims to court.
Meanwhile, £76 million is expected to be invested into the Family Court and tribunal systems to help boost capacity during the pandemic.